Euro slides as Portugal PM resigns, gold up

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The euro sank on Wednesday as Portugal’s prime minister resigned after his government’s austerity measures were voted down in parliament, while gold climbed near its record high on safe-haven bets.

U.S. crude oil futures ended at a 2-1/2 year high above $105 a barrel as Palestinian rocket strikes on Israel escalated Middle East geopolitical risks and gasoline inventories posted the biggest seasonal decline on record.

Global stocks ticked higher for a fifth straight day, lifted by mining companies’ shares as the prices of both precious and base metals climbed. Gold rose above $1,440 an ounce at one point and came within reach of its record high.

The MSCI All-Country World Index (.MIWD00000PUS: Quote, Profile, Research), which represents global equities, gained 0.1 percent. The index has added nearly 4 percent in the past five sessions.

On Wall Street, stocks gained as mining shares tracked metals prices higher, though volume was among the lowest so far this year.

Silver hit its highest price since 1980 and gold advanced as air strikes on Libya and renewed worries about the European debt crisis increased investors’ interest in precious metals, deemed a good store of value in uncertain or volatile times.

U.S.-dollar denominated Nikkei futures were little changed, pointing to a quiet start in Tokyo on Thursday after a 1.7 percent drop on Wednesday.

NO LONGER A SOCRATIC QUESTION

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates submitted his resignation to the president on Wednesday after parliament earlier rejected his minority Socialist government’s latest austerity measures in a vote.

“This raises the likelihood that Portugal will require a bailout, but the question is about how much the market has already factored this in,” said Brian Dolan, chief strategist at Forex.com in Bedminster, New Jersey.

“I’d say it’s been factored in to a significant degree, given the run-up we’ve seen in Portuguese yields and CDS.”

The Portuguese benchmark 10-year bond yield rose to 7.83 percent on Wednesday from Tuesday’s 7.68 percent. Many economists see borrowing costs above 7 percent as unsustainable and say Portugal will have to resort to the rescue mechanism.

An International Monetary Fund spokeswoman said earlier that Portugal has not requested an IMF-backed loan program, dismissing speculation Lisbon was in talks with the fund.

The euro hit a session low versus the U.S. dollar following Socrates’ resignation, although the slide is seen as temporary, given the expectation for the European Central Bank to raise interest rates next month.

“Expectations of the ECB raising rates favor the euro over the U.S. dollar,” said Thanos Papasavvas, head of currency management at Investec Asset Management, which manages over $10 billion in currency funds.

“We hold an overweight position in the euro and will be looking to buy on any dips,” he added.

The euro fell through the previous day’s session low, dropping to $1.4075 on trading platform EBS.

ON WALL ST, IT’S A MATERIAL WORLD

U.S. stocks rose in much lower-than-average volume. The materials sector index (.GSPM: Quote, Profile, Research) was the S&P 500’s top performer, rising 1.4 percent as metals prices climbed.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (FCX.N: Quote, Profile, Research) shares jumped 5 percent to $54.88.

Coal mining shares, which have risen recently amid uncertainty over the future of nuclear power after the crisis in Japan, also climbed.

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: Quote, Profile, Research) rose 67.39 points, or 0.56 percent, to 12,086.02. The Standard & Poor’s 500 (.SPX: Quote, Profile, Research) added 3.77 points, or 0.29 percent, to 1,297.54. The Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC: Quote, Profile, Research) gained 14.43 points, or 0.54 percent, to 2,698.30.

A plunge in sales of new U.S. single-family homes in February to the lowest level since 1963 tempered gains in U.S. stocks. The data from the U.S. Commerce Department suggested the housing market’s troubles were deepening.

Earlier, the FTSEurofirst 300 (.FTEU3: Quote, Profile, Research) closed up nearly 0.5 percent at 1,112.36 as a rise in mining shares more than offset weaker bank stocks.

Sterling fell 0.8 percent to $1.6238 after UK Chancellor George Osborne released a lower growth projection for the coming year and increased borrowing targets from 2011/12 to 2014/15.

An index of Egyptian stocks (.EGX100: Quote, Profile, Research) tumbled 9 percent in the first day of trading on the Cairo exchange since January 27, after closing due to the political turmoil that ousted Hosni Mubarak last month.

BONDS FLAT, OIL AND GOLD JUMP

U.S. Treasuries were little changed as the possibility that Japan might sell Treasuries to pay for repairing catastrophic events offset a safe-haven bid due to turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note slipped 3/32 in price to yield 3.34 percent, up from 3.33 percent late Tuesday.

U.S. crude oil futures for May delivery rose 78 cents to settle at $105.75 a barrel, the highest close since September 2008, while Brent dipped 15 cents to end at $115.55.

“Yemen is a very hot topic now. It is not that important to the oil market but unrest in the region gives enough psychological support to prices,” Andy Sommer, energy market analyst with EGL, said.

Spot gold rose 0.7 percent to $1,437.45 an ounce after hitting a session high of $1,440.90, near its recent record of $1,444.40.

Silver gained 2.7 percent to $37.29 an ounce at 2025 GMT, just below the session high of $37.34 an ounce, from $36.34 late in New York on Tuesday.

Copper rose over 2 percent on expectations of a supply deficit this year, while aluminum rallied to its highest since September 2008.

(Reporting and writing by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Steven C. Johnson, Lesley Wroughton, Chris Reese, Gene Ramos and Robert Gibbons; Editing by Jan Paschal)

Euro slides as Portugal PM resigns, gold up